Nelson bowling alley is a place of their own

No one will miss Savoy Lanes more than Nelson's Special Olympics athletes.

Nic Toner shows off a pair of Special Olympics medals he won for bowling.

Jason Rempel bowls for one reason only — turkeys.

One strike is fine. At two strikes he can taste the turkey. When he hit his third strike in a row Saturday and a turkey flashed on a monitor above the lane, Rempel looked to the ceiling, closed his eyes and made a noise that did not sound like a turkey, per se, but was definitely turkey-esque.

“The thing I like about [bowling] is when I get turkey strikes,” said Rempel, who on this day was in fact collecting a $90 cheque for the turkey draw, which only those who throw turkeys may enter.

But Rempel had yet one more ball to throw, and once more he threw a strike. A ‘4’ flashed on the monitor and Rempel put his hands over his mouth, appearing to have reached a state of bowling euphoria.

Rempel is a regular at Savoy Lanes, where he bowls every Saturday with Nelson’s Special Olympics group. He’s a committed bowler. He cheers on his teammates. He brings his own purple-swirled bowling balls. Last off-season he even returned to the bowling alley on his own time to work on his shot.

He’s very good at bowling.

“I sure am,” said Rempel. “I used to bowl between my legs but now I bowl right-handed. It’s a lot easier that way.”

Rempel will soon need a new place to bowl. Savoy Lanes is scheduled to shut down at the end of April, which means the city’s Special Olympics athletes – the bowlers’ numbers vary between 16 to 23 athletes – are losing a place that has acted in part as their gym and social club.

Phil Osachoff, who helps people with special needs, is close with the group. He’s known several of the athletes for about 30 years and even took two on a trip to see Graceland last year. He said the most important aspect Savoy Lanes has provided the group with is routine, and that the imminent closure has been difficult for them to grasp.

“Everyone says that they are sad because it is closing because they want the bowling alley to stay open in Nelson,” said Osachoff. “And the seniors I talk to also. I work with seniors as well with special needs who really, really want the bowling to stay open because there’s a lot of opportunity to see friends you’ve known your whole life.”

There were a lot of laughs and high-fives Saturday, but the bowling alley’s closure weighs on the group. One athlete asked a Star reporter several times if he knew what was happening with the bowling alley. Two athletes have already given up on the venue entirely and decline to bowl anymore.

Betty Burk, who has been the local Special Olympics co-ordinator for the last seven years, remembers Savoy Lanes as a vibrant place during its heyday.

“This alley was packed and roaring seven days a week,” she said. “But it was also very much a social hub. I think as our athletes and the bowlers have aged … [it’s] pretty much the senior’s club keeping it going.”

Burk is already working on Plan B for her athletes. The group will begin bocce and soccer as usual in the summer, and Burk is considering carpooling her bowlers to Castlegar every second week next fall. She’s not looking forward to their final visit to Savoy Lanes. “It’s really sad and the last day will be really hard,” she said.

On this day, however, no tears were being shed just yet.

Rempel finished his round with a score over 200 and was in a mood to celebrate. When asked what he’ll miss about the bowling alley, he took his time to consider. His eventual answer did not involve turkeys.

“The way,” he said, “that it’s been here for a long time.”

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